Headwrapping and Headaches – A Conundrum: To Wrap, Wrap Differently, or (GASP!) Not To Wrap?

Here’s our worksheet summary for you to refer to while reading the following article and use for yourself afterward.

Whether you suffer headaches chronically or occasionally, it’s very wise to have as much information at your fingertips which you can then access in making informed decisions regarding your head wrapping. This blog article is meant to provide the essential information you’ll need to answer some of the questions below. All personal testimonials have been shared with permission, and this article is not intended for use in diagnosis, treatment or cure of any medical ailment:

  • What is a headache, and what actually is happening to my body when I have one? Are there different types of headaches?
  • Could wearing a headwrap bring on a headache?
  • Can wrapping my head provide headache relief? Can headwrap factors such as overall weight, fabric texture and breathability make a difference for headache prone wrappers?
  • Are there certain wrap-traps that I can avoid if I am prone to headaches?
  • What does a Neurologist have to say about all of this and how do I wrap my head around all this information?

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, yourdictionary.com defines a headache as a ‘pain in the head, or something, such as a problem, that causes annoyance or trouble.’ Certainly, headaches are a problem! They’re painful and bothersome, and can even put a person completely out of commission for up to a few days, as in the case of migraines. Medically, the Mayo Clinic, on their website, mayoclinic.org gives a more detailed definition. They define a headache as pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a vise-like quality. A headache may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days.

The Mayo Clinic goes on to classify headaches in two categories; primary and secondary. A primary headache carries its own diagnosis, and doesn’t come about from a pre-existing illness or other possible medical cause. It is simply brought on by overactivity of, or issues with, pain sensing structures in the head. Brain chemistry, nerve endings, blood veins and vessels around your head and neck, or a combination thereof, can play a role in the primary headache. Genetic tendencies may also signal a predisposition to primary headaches. The most common types of primary headaches are the cluster headache, the tension headache, and the migraine headache (with or without the experience of seeing ‘auras’). Less common types of primary headaches may include specific features, such as an unusual length of time with pain, pain caused by certain activities, or pain brought on from lifestyle factors, such as stress level, drinking alcohol, or improper nutrition.

Secondary headaches signal an underlying illness, allergy or disease and trigger these same pain receptors in the head and/or neck. They vary greatly in severity and length. A secondary headache, for example, may be caused by anything as medically treatable as dehydration or a sinus infection, to more medically catastrophic illnesses such as meningitis, stroke, brain aneurysm or tumor, G-d forbid. The more common types of secondary headaches include, but aren’t limited to, sinus headaches, spinal headaches (from receiving a spinal tap or epidural), the dreaded “brain freeze” that many experience when enjoying their favorite frozen delights, or, and this is where things get interesting, external compression headaches, brought about from headgear causing pressure around the head or neck areas.

Yes, head wrappers may be setting themselves up for a headache simply by donning their daily ‘do,’ whereas others may find relief from previously diagnosed medical conditions. Certainly if one wraps too loosely, their wraps are doomed to slip, and if they wrap too tightly, they do chance an external compression headache. In a video interview entitled “How Head wrapping Relieved My Medical Condition,” Dani, who suffers from a medical condition causing regular bouts of ‘non-headache’ head pain that she describes as an ‘internal pressure or pounding,’ together with Andrea Grinberg, Owner and Founder of Wrapunzel, LLC, explore head wrapping as a possible treatment for headache associated with a medical condition. Dani describes to Andrea a certain style of tight headwrap that she has found to alleviate the annoying head pressure that she experiences on almost a daily basis. To help other women experiencing the same, or similar, medical issues, Dani has made her own video tutorial demonstrating exactly how to create this style that she has found so soothing. Please note that Dani’s condition is not a ‘regular’ headache, and that tight headwraps are counter-indicated for most headache sufferers.

Of course, Dani’s wrapping techniques and suggestions could be helpful for some wrappers with headache issues, but let’s take some time to explore more headache-specific tips and tricks from actual headache sufferers who wrap.

Andrea Grinberg, Owner and Founder of Wrapunzel, LLC, has been asked innumerable questions through the years regarding the ins and out of head wrapping. Questions regarding head wrapping and headaches – for new wrappers and more seasoned wrappers – were prevalent, as well as questions regarding how to wrap (or not) if these symptoms occur, or while they’re occurring. When she was a teenager, Andrea suffered from horrifically painful, debilitating migraines and thank goodness, with her ‘miracle’ cure of Vitamin B2, a treatment mentioned in the National Headache Foundation Blog, these subsided as she entered adulthood. Needless to say, the memories of the pain and knowledge of how migraines can affect people stay with her to this day. Surprisingly, Andrea found that her migraines were less frequent when she started wrapping, so when she was approached by wrappers who suffered from headaches more frequently when wrapping, she set out to clarify the reasons why this might occur.

Andrea found that the most obvious reason this occurs is due to wrapping or securing either one’s hair or scarf too tightly. To pull one’s hair back into a tight ponytail or bun and fasten it with a tight elastic can only lead to headache symptoms. A velvet scrunchie, when secured loosely, alleviates hair loss from pulling, and also lessens tugging on the hair due to the scrunchie’s soft, yet secure hold. A Wrapunzel exclusive product, the No-Slip Headband, should also not be worn too tightly on the head. It needs to fit snugly, like a gentle hug, but not too tight. Just recently, in October of 2019, Wrapunzel released a tutorial video on how to correctly measure one’s head circumference in order to ensure purchasing the correct size of No-Slip Headband and related products.

And even after securing one’s hair comfortably with one of Wrapunzel’s velvet scrunchies and a properly-sized No-Slip Headband , one may still be tying one’s scarves too tightly, causing headache issues. There’s no need to do this. One must also be concerned about possible ‘pulling back on the head’ or heaviness caused by certain wrapping techniques. Andrea finds that a way to alleviate this is to, while wrapping, hold the hands palm-up more often and to feel a more ‘forward’ momentum towards the face. Do not pull downwards or backwards, as this can only cause your wrap to pull in that direction later, causing symptoms. Wrappers who employ these techniques may actually find their symptoms to improve, as did Andrea.

Another wrapping technique that Andrea found may exacerbate headache symptoms is how one ties one’s knots (check out the great video from Naomi Rose below). Firmly tied double or even single knots at the middle back of the neck can cause an instant, banging, tension headache for some. First of all, as we’ve already mentioned, there is no need to tie so tightly, and it’s so important to remember this as rule number one. For some, not even tying a knot, but rather doing a simple criss-cross of scarf ends could provide just the relief you’re looking for in those tension-headache prone locations.

Yet another potential cause of pain is where and how your ends are tucked in. If you bunch your scarf up and simply tuck it under at the nape of your neck, you’re asking for trouble. Rather, you should try figuring out how to position your scarf ends so that you may tuck them into the scarf itself, perhaps at the top or side of the head, nice and smooth and not bunched.

Perhaps the most obvious obstacle to pain-free wrapping is undergarment, scarf and hair weight on the head. Obviously, you don’t want to put on two or three pashmina weight scarves if you have headache issues and it would benefit you greatly, if you’re a multiple scarf wearer, to opt for lighter weight scarves for comfort. However, a lot about weight on the head actually lies with how your ponytail/bun is positioned, and this can vary from person to person. Many say that securing their hair in a low bun is best to avoid headaches or lessen the pain, but for Andrea, she prefers her pony to sit medium high. Some may even feel that a ‘pixie pony’ way up top and center on the head is the best for them. To figure out what is best for you, you must experiment with this until you find the right place for the weight of your hair to lie.

Lastly, one should experiment with different undergarment options, wrap styles and varying levels of ‘wrap heat.’ For example, a style where a scarf wraps around the head fully, with merely a criss-cross in the back, which provides an overall ‘head hug,’ can provide relief of head pain symptoms for some, while sticking to lightweight, breathable coverings of natural fibers may be just the thing for others, such as Rachel Weintraub Stein, a thirty-three year old wrapper of almost six years from Silver Spring, MD, finds that using simple, one hundred percent cotton “Israeli”-style tichels helps her to avoid headaches due to their light weight and cool feel and breathability.Some prefer the comforting snugness of a fabric with stretch, whereas others prefer fabrics that lie flat on the head with no stretch.

Numerous ladies from the Wrapunzel Community have commented regarding a variety of options. Kelly O., a forty-something newbie wrapper of approximately ten months from West Virginia shared that:

..when I’m feeling a headache coming on or already have one, I prefer a Wrapunzel Regal Wrap (a simple, around-the-head style that distributes scarf weight evenly around the head) or other similar style that puts an even pressure over my entire head.

–Kelly O.

Kelly also shared with Wrapunzel that her husband has also found relief from headaches by donning a lightweight scarf in an around-the-head style.

Cynthia Al-zageruri, a thirty-one year old residing in New York with her husband and children has been covering hijab-style for eight years, since marriage. A very regular presence on the Wrapunzel Community Group, Cynthia shared with Wrapunzel that most of her headache issues come from the length of time she wears her hijab, how tightly she wraps it, and how she wears her hair in a cap underneath. She isn’t able to wear her hair in a tight ponytail under the cap without having symptoms, so she leaves it loose or in a low, extremely loose ponytail. If her hijab is wrapped too tightly, she will loosen it when pain symptoms strike, but she doesn’t feel any need to change her actual hijab style – which she wears to cover her head and neck/collarbone area simultaneously in accordance with Muslim religious law. Cindy has found the head and neck covering hijab style to provide even balance and weight to her wraps. In this style, wrap weight doesn’t pull backwards or forwards, and therefore lessons headache symptoms.

Heather Fullerton, who is in her mid-thirties and resides in Tennessee, has been covering full-time for almost two years. Heather suffered from occasional migraines as a teenager, and after the birth of her second child, was diagnosed with an endocrine disorder which only made her migraines worse. She now has migraines at least one to three times per week. Heather remarks:

As far as alleviating symptoms, I’ve noticed that not only does the ‘no knot’ technique help, but also the way you wear your hair under your shaper. Unfortunately, some shapers make my headaches worse, especially those with a band of grippy velvet that’s wider at the top of the head and tapered at the back of the head. I’ll wear that shaper only for special occasions, or when I know I won’t be wearing it for long. In general, wearing any kind of velvet tightly around my head feels like a vice squeezing my head.

I also tend to wear my hair in a loose bun and wrap scrunchies very loosely. The bun is under the wrap, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. Any type of wrap that causes pressure points makes my headaches worse, so not only do I not tie knots at the back, but I don’t tuck ends between my shaper and scarf. The only time I will tie an actual knot is if it’s a slippery scarf. If I do tie a knot, I try to make it as loose as possible, while still trying to make the wrap secure. I believe most people think that if they don’t tie a tight knot, their wrap will fall off. That’s just not the case, and I’ve had ‘no knot’ wraps last for more than eighteen hours without budging.

I’ve also noticed, for me anyway, that lighter scarves and scarves made of t-shirt material work best. They are forgiving and you don’t have to tie them tightly to get them to stay put. Cotton ‘Israeli” style scarves and printed viscose scarves are great for summertime. Wearing too much bulk or weight on the head makes things worse, but I’ve noticed I can get the look of a two or three scarf wrap with a simple ombre scarf, if it’s pleated the right way. Less is more. The more weight I have on my head, the worse the headaches. I also stretch out any headbands before wearing, stretching them out using a shoebox, otherwise I get the vice grip feeling again. For adding embellishment, therefore, I tend to stick to pins. Also, a good scalp massage before wrapping is helpful. If anyone is like me and sometimes wakes up with a migraine, pre-tieds, slip-on turbans and berets are also a great option. And, as always, if your headaches persist after trying all of these tips and tricks, see your doctor. Also, Stephanie Halapija’s video on headaches was a real game-changer for me when I was still new to wrapping and I highly recommend it.

To sum it up, no knots, no tight shapers or velvet headbands, keep embellished headbands to a minimum, and always aim for lightweight scarves and one-scarf wraps to reduce bulk.

-Heather Fullerton

Lisa R., a 50-something wrapper of several years, shared the following with Wrapunzel:

I have discovered that when I get migraines, which I haven’t had in a long time, but have begun to return, if I put my shaper on in one way it helps the pain, and if I try it another way, it doesn’t.  Also, I have discovered that if wrap my tichel in certain ways, it will help, but in other ways it just aggravates the migraine or headache…whichever I am having that day.  On the days with no migraines or headaches, I can wear my tichel any way I want and I am fine.  Something else I have noticed that affects my headache symptoms is how and where I place my shaper on my head.  I have both Signature and a Cloud9 shapers.

All these things make a difference for me.  On headache days I make sure I have a dark, solid scarf with no pattern other than the weave of the fabric.  Usually I choose an even weave instead of textured so my eyes do not wander to points where the light might hit the texture of the scarf.  I usually choose a heavy weight, such as a Solid Pashmina, although at times I will choose a lightweight scarf, such as the Cornerstone.  The material plays a big part in helping me through my headaches.  There are times where I will wear both a Cornerstone and a Solid Pashmina scarf.  Why two?  Doesn’t it weigh on my head?  Actually, no.  Not if wrapped properly.  If wrapped according to the size and shape of your head, and the pressure points, it will help greatly.  There is much relief which can be gained just by relaxing your shoulders, and tilting your head back a little bit and letting the scarf or scarves do the work to begin to help alleviate the pressure.  Also, for me, wearing them together provides for wonderful comfort and natural “air conditioning.”  

I usually like to wrap my head a little tighter or more snug than a gentle hug on headache/migraine days.  For me, putting pressure on my head from the outside, takes pressure off it on the inside.  For instance, think of a dot inside a circle.  Think of the dot as the headache or migraine, and the circle as the outside of your head.  When we get headaches or migraines usually they are localized, although sometimes they can be in more than one place or travel.  In order to fight that, everything tenses up and goes to fighting that at that location.  When we put pressure on the outside of our heads, then it feels as if our nerves go into overdrive to figure out what that pressure is, and how to get it off.  Little by little they leave the localized headache and spread themselves out around the perimeter of the scalp.

All of a sudden, we put pressure, just a little bit, but all of a sudden some of the pain goes away.  Why?  because the nerves have gone to see what they can do about getting this pressure off so they can go back to work of being stressed in one location.  Some stay and try to hang on, but depending on the conditions and situation, sometimes it takes just a little bit to work their way out, and other times, it takes a bit longer.  Yes, mine have hung on longer while using these tips, however, during the time I had the headaches and migraines, I was able to get a bit of relief here or there…before they came back.  

I do have migraines again, but I am so thankful that they are not nearly as bad as they used to be.  At times they are still debilitating, but now I know I can do something about them.  When I was younger I would try to pull my hair out, or touch my fingers together from either side of the temples of my head.  That was how hard I was pushing.  No, it never happened, and I cried and cried that I couldn’t make the pain go away.   Now, I don’t have to, as I have different techniques for different times or parts of a headache or migraine. 

-Lisa R.

We asked a Board Certified Neurologist and Headache Specialist, Sara Crystal, M.D. who practices in Manhattan, New York and resides in New Jersey, for her medical expertise and input regarding how head wrapping may bring on a headache, exacerbate one, or even relieve one. Here’s what we learned in speaking with her. Headache triggers are caused by compressing of the nerves that travel over the skull (see Diagram – nerves are in yellow).

As to why so many wrappers are prone to tension headaches from triggers along the several sensitive areas in the back of the head, this is caused by the location of the occipital nerve. The occipital nerve travels over the back of the skull. Pressure over this nerve, particularly along the bony ridge at the back of the skull, can cause pain that may radiate to the back of the eye on the same side.  Also, irritation of the nerve branches of the upper cervical spinal cord can contribute to headaches.  What may be interesting to many wrappers is that in the scalp itself there are few muscles (there are no muscles at all over the ‘crown’ of the head, but rather tendons and ligaments securing the forehead muscles), but many nerve endings.

image1

Certainly, making sure to keep wrapping undergarments and scarves loose, as well as giving yourself a thorough scalp massage before wrapping and after removing your wrap can be quite therapeutic, stimulating blood flow and easing tension. One should focus on the forehead, temples, and back of the neck from the occipital skull ridge downward. In addition, one should avoid their known headache pressure/trigger points, and stop massaging that or any other area entirely if there is pain of any kind.

Extremely common are headaches from seasonal allergy symptoms, and migraine headaches tend to be more common in people with seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis (inflammation of nasal tissues due to allergic symptoms). Allergies can also trigger more frequent headaches as well. The reason for allergies contributing so often to headaches may be the inflammation they cause, or nerve irritation.

To determine whether you are experiencing migraine headaches, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has a headache limited your activities for a day or more in the last three months?
  • Are you nauseated or sick to your stomach when you have a headache?
  • Does light bother you when you have a headache?

An answer of “yes” to two of the three questions above suggests a ninety-three percent chance that migraines are the cause of symptoms, and if things are getting difficult, you should consider seeing a doctor.  Otherwise, your headaches are likely tension-type headaches, and if they are occasional and respond to over the counter treatment, they may not require a doctor’s visit.  Should anyone ever experience any type of headache that has sudden, severe onset, or a ‘thunder-clap sound,’ it could very well benefit the sufferer to visit a hospital emergency room immediately.

Dr. Crystal stressed that headache sufferers who cover should always strive to wrap loosely, alternate the position of their ponytail or the style of their wrap often, and avoid pulling on the hair using any type of clips to secure one’s wrap to their head. For bad headache days, wrappers should avoid any and all accoutrements that may cause excess pulling, weight and pressure on the head, such as extra headbands for ornamentation. 

So where does this leave us head wrappers? Here is the bottom, or rather the top, line. If you’re afraid that wrapping is going to cause or worsen your headaches, you must take the time to experiment with ways to secure your hair under your wraps, new wrap styles and techniques and fabrics to find what works best for you. In incredibly rare situations, a person may find themselves (gasp!) absolutely unable to wrap without it causing pain, and we feel so badly for them that their finding joy in head wrapping may simply not be possible. For women who know they’ll be starting to wrap soon (as in a Kallah [bride] or G-d forbid, a cancer patient), now is the time to open your ‘wrap lab.’ For seasoned wrappers who may have only recently started experiencing headache issues, take some time behind closed doors to identify your pressure/trigger points and learn how to wrap in order to avoid them. Wrapping isn’t rocket science. Rather, it’s all about ‘live and learn.’ And of course, it’s really NOT a headache!

So tell us; what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s